The White House is playing up the findings of a new study released Monday that shows last year's extension of tax credits for the wind and solar industries will drive clean energy development, even as the administration's long-term climate change plan has been delayed indefinitely in court.
The tax credit extensions included in last December's omnibus spending bill could add as much as 48 to 53 gigawatts of solar and wind power by the early 2020s, according to the new study from the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The increased amount of solar and wind would essentially double the amount of renewables being used today, said White House officials on a call with reporters to discuss the report's findings.
Dan Utech, the president's deputy assistant on energy and climate change, said the five-year extension of the tax credits would "greatly accelerate" renewable energy development to power tens of millions of homes. He said the tax credit gains will serve as "a bridge to the Clean Power Plan," which goes into effect in 2022. The Clean Power Plan is the centerpiece of the president's second-term strategy to face down the threat of climate change.
Many scientists blame greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for causing the Earth's temperature to rise, resulting in more severe weather, drought and rising sea levels. The Clean Power Plan requires states to reduce their emissions a third by 2030, which 29 states and a host of other groups are opposing in federal appeals court.
The Supreme Court on Feb. 9 halted the plan's implementation until all court action on the climate rule has concluded, including any future review by the high court.
Utech said on the call that the administration is confident it will prevail on the merits. Without speculating on the long-term effects of the Supreme Court's stay, Utech said "we are focused on getting through the litigation as soon as possible."
"I think that the tax credits ... provide a strong bridge for the next five years and beyond that," he added.
Another specter hanging over renewable energy development that came up on the call is low natural gas prices. Natural gas-fired electricity has pushed out coal as the nation's dominant source of electric power.
The study looks at the effect of natural gas prices on renewables through a low and high price scenario, "as the price of natural gas has been a key factor influencing the economic competitiveness of new renewable energy development," the study says. "The analysis finds that, in both natural gas price cases, tax credit extensions can spur renewable capacity investments at least through the early 2020s, and can help lower CO2 emissions from the U.S. electricity system."
The report says greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced from 540 to 1,400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2016 and 2030.
The omnibus spending bill extended the tax credits for wind and solar energy, but also phases them out over time.
"After the tax credits ramp down, greater renewable energy capacity is driven by a combination of assumed cost reductions in renewable generation, assumed rising fossil fuel prices, and existing clean energy policies," according to the study.